AI Art and There’s A Reason We Shouldn’t Look Away. She’s out there somewhere, lurking in a parallel universe of possibilities. All you have to do to summon her into being is type the right prompt into an AI image generator. Like a digital incantation, the words will reveal the eerie face of a middle-aged woman with dead eyes, a vacant stare, and a disturbing grimace.
Her name is Loab (pronounced like ‘lobe’), and she was “discovered” by a Swedish-based artist who goes by the name of Supercomposite on Twitter.
Supercomposite is among the first wave of modern creators to explore the realms of text-to-image AI generators. This year, while experimenting with negative prompts (which ask machine learning algorithms to find the extreme opposite of something), the artist stumbled across a creepy face.
When Supercomposite ran the prompt again, they said the same woman came back, this time next to the word ‘loab’.
“The AI reproduced her more easily than most celebrities. Her presence is persistent, and she haunts every image she touches,” Supercomposite wrote on Twitter in a September 2022 thread about Loab’s discovery.
“Take a seat. This is a true horror story and veers sharply macabre.” With a hook like that, it’s no wonder Loab proceeded to take the internet by storm. The image of this mysterious woman is now so well-known she even has her own Wikipedia page.
Part of Loab’s mystery is what she represents. Loab’s figure has become a sort of modern-day ‘tronie’ – a type of artform from the Dutch Golden Age that exaggerates the expression of a face – one that doesn’t represent a person but an idea.
The allegory of Loab is just a bit more terrifying than, say, the subject of the more famous tronie titled Girl With A Pearl Earring. More profoundly, it wasn’t made by a human artist who can tell us more about the idea they were trying to represent.
Among the hundreds of Loab iterations Supercomposite has summoned into being.
Many feature dismembered or screaming children in the background. Some AI-generated images were so grotesque that the artist decided not to share them publicly.
“I was ripping Loab apart and putting her back together. She is an emergent island in the latent space that we don’t know how to locate with text queries,” writes the artist on Twitter.
“She finds everyone sooner or later. You just have to know where to look,” Supercomposite adds.
Loab has captured the world’s attention for more than just her nightmarish qualities. Plucked from the abyss through what Supercomposite calls an “emergent statistical accident”, the eerie woman represents a new era of creativity we may or may not be ready for.
Brendan Murphy, a photographer and lecturer in digital media at Central Queensland University in Australia, spends much of his free time thinking about the future of AI and sampling image and text generators.
With the technology recently exploding, he thinks the art world is headed for a paradigm shift, much like when photography arrived on the scene in the early 1800s.
Today, when Murphy uses AI to make art, he thinks of it like landscape photography, wandering around a place and looking for interesting things to capture. Except, in this case, the landscape he’s exploring is a sort of parallel universe of human art.
After all, AI generators are trained on human knowledge, culture, and traditions of art.
Which means that we could have plausibly done anything they create. These unrealized possibilities are now out there for people to find, and Murphy and Supercomposite are among the first to join the hunt.
“There are things that you see that interest you, that you really want to amplify, and really want to go in that direction,” Murphy explains to ScienceAlert.
“There’s no reason to go on these paths. And there are probably really good reasons why people have never gone down these paths. Because it’s probably never going to impress anyone or sell anything.”
That doesn’t mean using AI to make art is frivolous. Instead, Murphy says AI is a tool artists can use to further their artistic practices. And every once in a while, a precious figure like Loab emerges from the abyss.
“I think the thing about Loab is, it is a great story. It’s not just the technology. It’s looking at what drives the technology. Also It’s looking at the possibility of the technology,” he explains.
“And I think that is great. I think that is a valid artwork. Much more valid than just making a particular AI image. There’s a lot of thought, a lot of experimentation, a lot of iterations.”